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AMANDA PALMER @ Perth Concert Hall gets 8.5/10


Amanda Palmer There Will Be No Intermission @ Perth Concert Hall

Saturday, February 22, 2020

8.5/10

The Perth Concert Hall stage looked surreal on Saturday night. Decked out for the last of three nights for Meow Meow’s Pandemonium, it was beautifully lit by a massive chandelier and dangling light bulbs suspended by black wires of different lengths. Amanda Palmer walked onto the stage like a woman on a mission, wearing what looked like a black riding jacket and boots, and paused for a few seconds next to the grand piano before sitting down to play. All eyes were transfixed on an auburn, wild-haired, statuesque woman, who looked back at the audience with steely determination.

It was clear that this would not be an ordinary concert. Anyone who read the Perth Festival synopsis on Amanda Palmer’s There Will Be No Intermission would not have been overly surprised, as it forewarned those brave enough to purchase a ticket. The concert would be four hours long and promised to take the audience on a confronting roller coaster ride, exploring many themes including death, friendship, her Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, the media, feminism, marriage, abortion, miscarriage, motherhood, life with her husband and author Neil Gaiman, bushfires, and climate change.

Those who had read the synopsis would not have been disappointed because Palmer took us on what seemed like a cabaret-style therapy session interlaced with songs. She let us into her world with stories that were raw, brutally honest, uncomfortable and unflinchingly real. She was unapologetic about using her art as a form of ‘therapy’, sharing stories of her teenage years growing up in Massachusetts where she would spend hours on the piano writing and experimenting, her mother probably realising that letting her do so would save her thousands of dollars spent in sending her daughter to therapy.

A masterful storyteller with a love for irony, who is unafraid of showing her vulnerability, Palmer immersed the audience into her world of growing up in the middle class suburbs of Massachusetts, taking us through her bad taste in music and men as a 14 year old.

Palmer pulled a few rabbits from her hat with covers of Disney and musical songs such as the first track, My Favourite Things, from The Sound of Music, showing off her flair for cabaret. These were a welcome reprieve from the overall lyrically dark songs that were sourced from her back catalogue. While these were covers, they were all sung with her signature style and she did not fail to make them her own.

Her piano accompaniment was confident, impressive and strong throughout as her powerhouse vocals carried us along. Palmer changed the ending lyrics of My Favourite Things and instead sang about “kangaroos burning”, “evacuations”, “beautiful sunsets ironically coloured” and “silver-white icebergs that melt into springs”. Later in the set, Palmer covered Beds are Burning by Midnight Oil to promote her charity record to raise money for bushfire relief. Obviously touched by recent events in Australia, she cleverly interwove these current topics into her show, and this was appreciated by the audience.

Part of Your World from The Little Mermaid was a charming and surprising cover, as she humorously asked the audience to imagine the song being sung by multiple narrators. Before her last song, she covered Let It Go from the Frozen soundtrack and the lighting in the hall was breathtaking as a myriad of moving lights reflected off the large chandelier and danced around the hall, bringing us back to our childhood.

The Beach Boys-inspired Oasis, in which she sings about date rape and abortion, sounded uncharacteristically happy in spite of its dark lyrics. She spoke about the feminist journalists who criticised her for making light of date rape and abortion, and pointed out that American feminists seem to have an “irony deficiency” because she chose to sing “truth in a major key”. Palmer had come to the conclusion that her job as an artist is to “go into the dark and make light” and noted that she is not responsible for making an audience feel comfortable, but rather to point to the messy and ugly things in life that need to be addressed.

Opening up about her abortions and miscarriage, at one point Palmer asked the audience to put up their hands if their lives had somehow been touched by abortion. Her ability to unite her fans and make them feel seen and heard, was demonstrated by the fact that around half of the audience in the packed Perth Concert Hall felt brave enough to raise their hands. She went on to graphically retell the trauma of going to an “abortion factory” in her 30s soon after her marriage to Gaiman. She talked about her passion for helping women who choose to abort feel safe and putting an end to the discrimination that aborting mothers face on a daily basis.

Palmer admitted that she had the choice to put on a purely entertaining “nice show” that was only 90 minutes long. But remaining true to her edgy persona, in There Will Be No Intermission she chose to continuously push the boundaries. To lighten the mood, after the third song, Bigger on the Inside, she gave the audience an escape clause and promised that if anyone were to stand up and cry out “Amanda, I’m too sad!” she would gladly start playing the opening chords of her crowd-pleaser, Coin-Operated Boy.

She also provided comic relief in the form of playfully interacting with the Auslan interpreters who took turns to translate the four-hour long show. During her eventual performance of the recently reformed Dresden Dolls hit Coin-Operated Boy, she would pause and start abruptly several times towards the end of the song to playfully test the reaction of the Auslan interpreter. The Auslan interpreter held her own and the audience was suitably impressed by her showmanship.

The highlight of the night was Palmer’s original, Drowning in the Sound. In signature, dramatic Amanda Palmer style, she sang about political madness in the world and fear arising from catastrophic events such as Hurricane Harvey, the song building to a huge crescendo. In the middle, she skillfully transitioned the song into the verse of Madonna’s Like a Prayer and returned to the original chorus. The lighting was used to great effect as it pulsated rhythmically in time with the song and heightened the drama.

While it is noble that Palmer wants to use her art as a means to incite change and combat injustice, I admit that I was left feeling somewhat mentally assaulted by the end of the show. Her stories were so raw and blood-soaked that I felt that I had just sat through a very long confessional session where Palmer wrestled with her demons. Although we were warned in the show’s synopsis, I was left wondering: who benefited most from the ‘therapy’ session?

As confronting as it was, the show was definitely cathartic and after four and a half hours (with one intermission of 20 minutes) with Palmer, I felt like I had just been through a deeply human and intimate experience with roughly 1500 strangers in the Perth Concert Hall.

Love her or hate her, Amanda Palmer is an incredible speaker and performer who may be called many things, but ‘forgettable’ is not one of them. Her fans in the audience lapped up her performance that went past the curfew time and gave her a standing ovation after her 13th song. After which, she indulged us with The Ride, a song about the current climate of fear and likened everyone to frogs in a boiling pot, as she reassured us that life is really “just a ride”. That is a perfect description of There Will Be No Intermission: an unforgettable, confronting, entertaining and cathartic ride.

CHERYL LIM

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